By Dixie Allan
Did you know that the Halloween Witch is still one of the most popular costumes chosen by young girls and adults each year? It's amazing, and one needs to ask... what is so fascinating about witches and witchcraft? Well, here's a little bit of history behind real witches.
The word 'witch' is derived from the Saxon word 'wicce' (meaning wise one) - and 'wicca' (meaning healer). The witch was considered a wise-woman who lived in harmony with nature and the seasons. They were skilled in the use of herbs and were often called upon to cure the ill.
The broomstick was symbolic of magical powers. Its real purpose was to cleanse the area where magical rituals were performed. So how did the belief arise that the Halloween witch rode a broomstick and flew through the sky?
When setting out for a Sabbath, witches rubbed a sacred ointment on their skin. This gave them a feeling of flying, and if they had been fasting they felt even giddier. Some witches rode on horseback, but poor witches went on foot and carried a broom or a pole to aid in vaulting over streams. In England when new witches were initiated they were often blindfolded, smeared with flying ointment and placed on a broomstick. The ointment would confuse the mind, speed up the pulse and numb the feet. When they were told "You are flying over land and sea," the witch took their word for it.
Of course, we've all seen witches standing over bubbling cauldrons and drinking from large chalices in the movies. The cauldron was a pot used for concocting magical potions and for scrying (looking into the future on the water's surface).
Each of these symbols alone wouldn't create much of a stir, but when combined, all these ritualistic items and beliefs in magical powers would soon convince the people that witches had abilities beyond what the normal person should have. Add in the ability to create "magical healing potions" to cure the sick and soon you have tales of witches being able to turn themselves into cats and doing all sorts of strange things.
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